Austin Trip

This past weekend my husband I took a long weekend trip to Austin. Paul is a fan of Formula 1 racing, so for his birthday/Christmas present last year I gave him a trip to see their American Grand Prix. Almost an entire year later we finally got to when that actually was. Despite having spent my last 3 years of high school in Dallas I had never really spent much time in Austin. My father wanted me to apply to UT. I didn’t want to, and never did at least as an undergrad. I actually wound up applying for grad school there, and my only other trip to Austin was a quick one night trip to go interview there. I can’t even remember if I got accepted to their program, but if I did I obviously chose not to go.

When I started looking at places for us to stay in Austin I discovered that all the hotel rates were jacked up to insane prices because of the race. So I started to look at VRBO rentals instead. I’m partial to renting a house or condo when we’re staying somewhere for a week because I find it nice to have more space than a hotel room. Plus it’s nice to have a kitchen so you don’t have to eat every meal out. For shorter trips like this one, I don’t tend to go that route. However, I determined even though we were still paying a premium because of the race, it was going to be cheaper to rent a place rather than book a hotel room.

I wound up finding this little apartment in the Hyde Park neighborhood, which is about 4-5 miles north of downtown Austin. That’s about the same distance our neighborhood is from downtown Baltimore, so it felt like a reasonable enough distance especially since I knew we would have a rental car. The apartment was part of a house divided into three apartments. We didn’t wind up using the kitchen at all on such a short trip, but it was nice to have an actual living room since we spent a decent amount of time at the house. There’s also a little office in the back that we didn’t use, but the place would definitely be great for someone coming for SXSW and needing to do work while they’re there.

Hyde Park is a great little residential neighborhood. There were always lots of people out running and walking their dogs. The houses all seemed very cute, but it also seemed like there was a mix of people from apartment dwellers to small houses up to some rather large houses. It was a mostly residential area, but there was one little business district with a little grocery and a handful of restaurants. We ate at Quacks 43rd Street Bakery and Cafe every morning for breakfast. It was a great little bakery and coffee shop. Definitely a neighborhood place as they didn’t even have a drink menu up other than their specials.

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We arrived really late on Thursday night, so we didn’t do anything but head to the apartment and crash. Friday we got up and eat a leisurely breakfast and took a look around the neighborhood. Then we decided to walk to the University of Texas campus, which was about 2 miles from where we were staying and go to the LBJ Presidential Library. It was the first presidential library I’ve ever been too. It was pretty interesting, and I definitely know way more about LBJ than I did before.

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The LBJ Archives
The LBJ Archives
The scariest thing I saw on Halloween, animatronic LBJ.
The scariest thing I saw on Halloween, animatronic LBJ.

After spending several hours at the library, we decided it was time for a late lunch. There wasn’t anything immediately close by so after a recommendation from a Twitter pal to eat at Torchy’s Tacos while we were in Austin, we sought out the closest one of those and walked over. Someone really needs to expand that chain to Baltimore right now. Those were some tasty tacos. I wound up eating a lot of tacos on this trip, and the barbacoa tacos I ate at Torchy’s were by far the best ones.

Delicious barbacoa tacos from Torchy's
Delicious barbacoa tacos from Torchy’s

During our walk around the neighborhood on Friday I pointed out to Paul that the houses were all really decked out for Halloween. Since it seemed like we might be at the house when it got to be trick-or-treat time I told him that we should pick up some candy just in case. We grabbed a couple of bags of candy to have on hand if needed. I was not wrong. It was a good thing we had that candy. Our house was on a corner. Turns out that the block directly across the intersection is Halloween central. It was actually coned off so people couldn’t drive down it. This is definitely one of those neighborhoods that people drive to in order to trick-or-treat. At first it seemed like everyone was by-passing the houses on our block and heading straight to the crazy Halloween block. The girls in the house next door, who were obviously UT students started just sitting out on their porch and yelling at people that they had candy. Then the lady from one of the other apartments in our house sat out on our porch and gave out candy too. So I figured maybe it was like our Baltimore neighborhood and if you were giving out candy you had to sit outside to do it, otherwise no one would bother you. I’m more than happy to hand out candy if you ring my bell, but I’m not going to sit outside for you. Sorry. However, I was wrong. As soon as it got dark out and people could see clearly that I had put the porch light on we started getting a lot of trick-or-treaters. We ran out of candy about 10 minutes before The Amazing Race, which we were watching, was over. So we turned the light off, finished the show, and headed to dinner. We decided to just walk to one of the places in the neighborhood since it was late, and trying not to hit the hundreds of kids roaming the streets in the car seemed like a good idea. Walking over to dinner the whole neighborhood was crazy. The people in Hyde Park seriously go all out for Halloween. I have never seen anything like it. The elaborate set-ups these people had at their houses were insane. Now I’m curious as to what the neighborhood is like at Christmas.

One of my favorite houses. Though this was really nothing compared to some.
One of my favorite houses. Though this was really nothing compared to some.

We wound up eating at the Hyde Park Bar and Grill. It was fine, and yeah somewhere I would eat again if I lived there because I could walk to it. If I lived in Austin, but not in that neighborhood I wouldn’t bother going back.

Saturday we went in search of barbecue for me. When I asked people on my Facebook page where I should eat while we were in Austin every single person who replied included Salt Lick BBQ in their list. Then the packet left by the owner of the house that included recommended places to eat in Austin said Salt Lick BBQ, the drive is worth it. I was pretty determined that the despite the fact that my vegetarian husband couldn’t really eat much there, I really wanted to go. There are two locations, both of which are in the suburbs of Austin. The Driftwood location is the original, but the Round Rock location had a slightly larger menu that included a salad, so at least there was something more than just cole slaw and potato salad that Paul could eat. I got their 2 meat platter with brisket and sausage, which also came with beans, cole slaw, and potato salad. Paul ordered the vegetable plate, which was the same as my food minus the meat. He also got a side salad. He of course couldn’t actually eat the beans because there was meat in them. I also had some blackberry cobbler for dessert. I fear that Salt Lick couldn’t live up to all the hype for me. Don’t get me wrong. It was some good BBQ, but I’m not convinced I couldn’t have eaten some equally good BBQ elsewhere in Austin and somewhere Paul could have eaten a better meal. I’m not sorry we hunted it down though, as I always would have wondered what I had missed out on.

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After lunch we headed into downtown Austin. As part of the race weekend they were holding the Circuit of the Americas Fan Fest down there, which involved a bunch of race related activities and free music on three different stages. Austin being the live music capital of the world and all you would think they could have programmed that better. Seriously with three stages you should stagger the set times so people can go to another stage during the set changes. Nope all three stages had the same schedule. Not that I cared about most of the music from what little I heard anyway. All the bands I actually knew were all playing on Sunday during the actual race. We wandered around for awhile and checked out all the booths. We stopped and listened to a couple of bands for a little bit, but none of them were any that really grabbed my interest. The best part of the Fan Fest, was getting to see some of the F1 cars up close. I had no idea how tiny they actually were. They don’t look that small to me when I see them on the TV. It’s hard to imagine how the drivers even fit in them. After that we wandered around 6th Street for awhile, which is the big nightlife area in Austin. It’s blocks and blocks of bars essentially. It’s not any place I would particularly choose to hang out at this point in my life. Saturday night we found a place a couple of miles away from our place called La Mancha to eat dinner. It was a Tex-Mex place. It had decent food, but again nothing I would say you couldn’t find equally as good or better at another place.

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Sunday was race day. I’m going to write up everything about the actual race in a separate blog post, so check back tomorrow for that.

After the race we went to neighborhood called SoCo, which is just south of downtown Austin on the other side of the river. There’s a couple of blocks there filled with cute shops and restaurants. We wound up eating at another Mexican restaurant, whose name I don’t remember because eating Tex-Mex or BBQ in Austin seemed like the thing I should do. I felt like I could leave the farm-to-table type restaurants for back in Baltimore. Of the three barbacoa tacos I ate during our trip, these were the worst. They weren’t awful, but if I was ranking them, these were at the bottom.

Monday our flight wasn’t until 3, but we had to be out of our apartment at 10, so we had a few hours to kill. We wound up going to the Texas State Capitol building and doing a tour of that. It was pretty interesting, and I learned things. Despite having lived in Texas and gone to school there for 3 years I must have been too old for much Texas related history or government at that point because I don’t remember learning any of the stuff we were told. For instance, I had no idea that the Texas House and Senate only meet every other year and their members are only considered part time employees. All the Senate rules about speaking that the tour guide told us I only knew because of the whole Wendy Davis filibuster.

We only got to see inside the House chambers because the Senate chambers have been undergoing a renovation. They apparently were supposed to be reopened that day, but they were not and our tour guide was super disappointed about it. They have also constructed a very large extension onto the Capitol, which was extremely well done. It’s actually underground because original plans to just add on to the historic building were scrapped since it would completely block the view of it. They did it in such a way that there is actually lots of natural light even though the extension is underground. It is a really great design, so well done architects of that.

After that we headed to the airport. Turns out that one of the restaurants in the airport is Salt Lick BBQ, so apparently we didn’t need to make a special trip anywhere for me to eat it after all. After assessing my dining options I did wind up eating it again. This time I got a chopped brisket sandwich. From what I could the quality didn’t suffer from it being served in an airport as opposed to an actual restaurant, so I guess we made a special trip to the restaurant for nothing. Oh well.

All in all it was a good trip. Austin wasn’t entirely what I expected. I had always heard how great of a city it was, but for the most part I didn’t seeing anything overly exciting about it or anything that made me think I need to go back again any time soon. Since it is so renowned for live music, I do wish I had had the chance to really get to experience some of that. Things were weird with the music scene period because of Halloween and then stuff going on for the race, so I don’t feel like my options in that respect were normally what they would have been if we had been there at another time. I would have liked nothing more to see a show at Austin City Limits, but that was not to be. Friday they had a Halloween show, and then on Saturday they had a Duran Duran concert connected to the Circuit of the Americas Fan Fest. I don’t care that much about Duran Duran, and they weren’t someone I was going to pay a premium to see. If I ever go back I’ll make sure that some live music opportunities will be in the mix.

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